Michael Herson in the News

Lobbyists Are Preparing for Congress to Stumble Into a Shutdown

Posted on: 02-23-2024 Posted in: Uncategorized

From Kate Ackley, Bloomberg Government, February 23, 2024

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced today that he is leading a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to Ukraine for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy about new military aid that’s stalled in Congress.

“We are here to show the Ukrainian people that America stands with them and will continuing fighting to get the funding they so desperately need and deserve. We will not stop fighting until we gain the aid,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a press release.

The delegation includes Sens. Jack Reed (R.I), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), and Maggie Hassan (N.H.)

A package of aid that would provide $60 billion for Ukraine is stalled in the Republican-led House. Delays in approving and delivering more weaponry to Kyiv have helped Russia press its advantage on the battlefield as Moscow’s invasion enters its third year. In an interview with Fox News this week, Zelenskiy urged President Joe Biden and Republican front-runner Donald Trump to visit Ukraine’s front lines as see the “tragedy” for themselves. Read the full story from Bloomberg News.

Meanwhile in Washington, lobbyists won’t have a minute to spare.

The influence set is gearing up for a post-recess crunch when lawmakers return next week — days before a slate of federal agencies run out of funding March 1. The rest follow March 8.

The buzz on K Street is that congressional leaders may stumble into a shutdown with a novice speaker, divided House GOP, and long-delayed fiscal 2024 appropriations bills mired in controversies over culture-war riders, including abortion.

“We’ve been telling clients that the possibility of a shutdown on March 1 is real,” said Rich Gold, who runs the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight and worked in the Clinton administration. “Not so much because anybody will mean for it, although certainly there is a group of House Republicans who wouldn’t mind taking a shutdown home to their district as an early Ides of March present.”

Gold, whose registered clients include the American Chemistry Council and Occidental Petroleum, said another short-term funding patch may be the only way to avoid a shutdown.

Senators will return Monday, and House members are back Wednesday. That’s asking a lot of the extra 24 hours of a leap year on Thursday.

“It was ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ that had the song that goes, ‘We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there,’” said lobbyist Paul Thornell, referring to the 1977 film’s theme song “East Bound and Down” that sums up the current situation on Capitol Hill.

This Congress is too unpredictable to accurately forecast, said Thornell, a Democrat whose recent clients at Mehlman Consulting included Walmart and TikTok, according to congressional lobbying disclosures.

“If you really want to be the smart one in the room, you will not speak in terms of absolute certainty,” he said.

Some lobbyists see reason for optimism, even as Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) navigates a situation that led to his predecessor’s ouster.

“Mike Johnson wants to govern, and I’m confident that he will work hard to avoid a partial government shutdown and get the FY spending bills passed before the CRs expire,” said Michael Herson, who runs American Defense International where clients, such as General Atomics and General Dynamics, have a lot riding on the funding debate. Herson, who ran for Congress in the 1990s as a Republican, donated to Johnson and other House leaders as well as to congressional Democrats.

Funding the government isn’t the only immediate priority for lobbyists. Business interests are pushing for a tax package the House passed on a bipartisan vote.

“Now the focus is really how to proceed in the Senate…and how to get the bill over the finish line and signed by the president,” said Democratic lobbyist Arshi Siddiqui, a partner at the firm Akin.

Tax lobbyists are looking for “the right legislative vehicle and really harnessing the urgency felt across the spectrum of stakeholders who really need the tax relief provided in this bill,” said Siddiqui, who represents the the Coalition for 1099-K Fairness, which supports raising the reporting threshold for sales at online sites such as eBay, and the Business Roundtable.

Thornell also said despite the 118th’s rap as a do-nothing body, “there are many ways other than just passing legislation that Congress asserts itself,” including letters aimed at regulators who are still implementing major laws from the last Congress.

“Those are very good indicators that there is a whole lot of activity going on,” Thornell said. “That is absolutely a key piece of policymaking, and it’s happening and in some cases going in overdrive.”

Lawmakers have barely more than a week to avoid a partial government shutdown. There’s no agreement yet on how quickly lawmakers can finish work on a first tranche of bills to avoid a partial shutdown. Some key negotiators hope to make an announcement Sunday night on government funding, a person familiar with the plan said. But two staffers for Johnson pushed back, saying that’s not the plan. They added members will have at least 72 hours to review the text before a House vote.

House and Senate appropriators must enact four of the 12 annual government-funding bills by next Friday, followed by the other eight by March 8, to avoid a shutdown. Jack Fitzpatrick has the update on the questions lawmakers have to answer to make the deadlines.

Center-left lawmakers will observe how one of the largest US ports seizes illegal drugs in California’s Long Beach today, as House Democrats look to find bipartisan compromise on border security by combating illicit fentanyl, Maeve Sheehey reports first for Bloomberg Government. The congressional delegation will be led by Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and include members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, a group that aims to work across party lines on legislation.

Availability of fentanyl, which is linked to more teen overdoses than any other drug, is regularly cited by House Republicans as a top issue with the Biden administration’s handling of the southern border. New Democrats’ CODEL to Long Beach comes as they grasp at some sort of compromise with Republicans on border policy, after the GOP rejected a bipartisan immigration plan from the Senate.

“I don’t know that you can meet very many people who haven’t been somehow impacted by the fentanyl crisis, and so I do think that this provides us an unfortunate but unique opportunity for us to work together” across the aisle, Davids said. Reps. Davids, Kim Schrier (Wash.), Sara Jacobs (Calif.), and Norma Torres (Calif.), will join the CODEL.